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How will the Vikings resolve their nickel cornerback situation?

By Matthew Coller

The Minnesota Vikings have been focused on signing quarterback Kirk Cousins, but they have several other needs to fill before the offseason is over. Defensive tackle and offensive line are at the top of the list. It’s harder to pin down the team’s direction at nickel corner.

The nickel spot used to be a part-time role, but now teams are using three corners on the field in about 70 percent of snaps league wide – so it’s a starting job. And free agent prices have reflected that this year. Nickel Robey-Coleman of the Los Angeles Rams got a three-year, $15.75 million deal to stick in the City of Angels.

So let’s have a look at some of the potential directions the Vikings could go

Hand the role over the Mackensie Alexander

The Vikings went into training camp last season with virtually no competition for the 2016 second-round pick. But his struggles during the preseason forced Mike Zimmer to turn to 39-year-old corner Terence Newman. Alexander ended up filling in as a rotational player, playing 32 percent of total snaps. When he was lined up in the nickel spot, Alexander’s numbers were good. He allowed only a 60.3 rating into his coverage, but that was in a very small sample. Overall Pro Football Focus graded the former Clemson 106th out of 121 qualifying corners.

The Vikings have a history of helping corners reach their potential, but they might see Alexander as a better fit as a fill-in or as an outside corner.

Bring back Terence Newman

There can’t be enough said about the job Newman did for the Vikings’ No. 1 defense last season. Not only did he switch to a position he’d barely played during his entire career, Newman played 55 percent of total snaps and performed admirably. He’s one of the oldest corners to ever play, which is a testament to his smarts and work ethic. However, bringing him back to do it again would be a big ask. Putting him into a spot as a near full-time player again could set up for disaster. No matter how good players are during their career, everyone eventually reaches a point where they slip. If Newman returned with a DB role as a rotational player, filling in at different spots whenever needed, that would make sense for a return.

Sign a remaining free agent

The market isn’t exactly chalk full of superstar nickel corners. Three of the best, Aaron Colvin, Robey-Coleman and Patrick Robinson signed quickly. The Star Tribune reported some interest in Bears RFA Bryce Callahan. Some of the remaining names include former Giant Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, ex-Steeler and Giant Ross Cockrell and former Buc Robert McClain.

Nobody is going to hold a press conference at Mall of America for those players, but Rodgers-Cromartie was one of PFF’s highest rated slot corners in 2016 and ranked 58th of 121 last year, Cockrell was 39th and has proven to be a versatile player and McClain rated 84th, but only allowed a 78.4 rating into his coverage. Callahan was 31st.

It would be reasonable to expect any of those proven nickel corners to step in and provide similar or better play from the slot position than the Vikings received last year from Newman and Alexander. Cost will be a factor. Rodgers-Cromartie might be the most expensive of the crew, while Cockrell could make for a savvy under-the-radar signing.

Draft a corner

Teams in need of cornerbacks are in pretty good shape this year. CBS Sports’ big board has four of them in the top 30, Josh Jackson, Jaire Alexander, Denzel Ward and Isaiah Oliver. If not in the first round, there are another nine CBs in the top 100. It wouldn’t be a surprise at all if the Vikings drafted a CB considering Trae Waynes may eventually want to look for a big deal on the open market (the Vikings will have to decide on his fifth-year option by May) and Minnesota has zero depth at the position currently. But it’s always risky to ask a cornerback who played on the outside in college (as the best normally do) to switch inside. Zimmer tried it with Waynes briefly and it wasn’t a fit. It isn’t as easy to switch to nickel as Newman made it seem last year.

The post How will the Vikings resolve their nickel cornerback situation? appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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